Incomplete Secularization of History: Ethan Kleinberg and Hayden White

Abstract According to the displacement model of secularization, religious-theological concepts, themes, and values have been reinterpreted in non-religious contexts without fully dispensing with the religious content. Secularization is thus incomplete. The incomplete secularization argument can be used as a lens through which to read Ethan Kleinberg’s deconstructive approach to the past. In his narrative, as reconstructed here, deconstruction promises to bring us closer to a secular relationship to the past than the ontological realism Kleinberg says still dominates contemporary historical theory. By contrasting Kleinberg’s analysis with Hayden White’s, whose oeuvre can be read as structured by the idea of incomplete secularization and a wish to liberate history from religious themes in order to enable a direct confrontation with meaninglessness, I argue that Kleinberg’s deconstructive approach does not fulfill its promise. Rather, it opens up a post-secular historiography in which religious themes might find a place at the very heart of historical reasoning.